Virginia and the Old South

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Course Length:
15 weeks


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  • “Topics in American History” courses provide an opportunity for students to study a specific group, region, or theme in American history. Subjects vary from semester to semester and are designated as: Women in the United States; Immigrants and Ethnicity; The Frontier; and Virginia and the Old South.
  • In this Topics course, we will examine the history of the American South in general and Virginia in particular, from the first English settlements to the end of the U.S. Civil War. We will also explore such themes as the nature of the Old South and its importance for understanding the origins of the United States and the formation of the American national character.




  • The backbone of this course is provided by seven lectures which the professor will give in the classroom, providing text and images on PowerPoint slideshows. Lectures address the major events, personalities, ideas, institutions, and developments of the American South from 1584 to 1865.
  • Lecture One (The Chesapeake Adventure): the initial imperatives for English colonization in the sixteenth century, and the development of political, economic, cultural, and social systems in Virginia and Maryland, from the founding of the Lost Colony of Roanoke in 1584 to Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676
  • Lecture Two (The Roots of Slave Society): the introduction of black chattel slavery and the rise of slavery-based social systems (as well as black slave cultures) in the Chesapeake, the Carolinas, and Georgia in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, understood within the context of clashing European empires
  • Lecture Three (The Road to Independence): the French and Indian War, the subsequent constitutional conflicts between the Southern Colonies and Great Britain in the 1760s and early 1770s, and the emergence of Virginian leadership with the outbreak of war in 1775 and the decision for independence in 1776
  • Lecture Four (Revolution in the South): Britain’s “Southern Strategy” for victory in the Revolutionary War, the ferocious civil war between Patriots and Loyalists in the Carolinas and Georgia, and the War’s final resolution in Virginia in 1781
  • Lecture Five (Virginia and the Founding): the role of such Virginia leaders as Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Mason in addressing post-war national crises, framing the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, grappling with the issue of slavery, reconciling national with state interests, and clashing over what kind of social system can best sustain a republican government
  • Lecture Six (The Road to Disunion): the expansion of slave society to the Old Southwest and the rise of the “cotton kingdom,” the growing division between free states and slave states, and the outbreak of constitutional crises over the status of slavery in the Western territories, culminating in the secession of the cotton states in 1860-1861
  • Lecture Seven (Rise and Fall of the Confederacy): the formation of the Confederate government by the cotton states and the secession of the tobacco states in the spring of 1861, the military and political struggle between the Confederate and Union Armies (particularly in Virginia), and the contribution of Southerners (including black slaves) to the defeat of the Confederacy and the destruction of the Old South




These lectures on the history of Virginia and the Old South will provide the framework for readings, writing assignments, class discussions, and other classroom activities addressing seven major themes on the nature of the Old South and its role in early American history.

  • Theme One: What is the South? Is it a state of mind, a “way of life,” an economic system, a culture, or just a place? If it is a place, just where is the South? How “American” is “the South” today? How Southern is America? What might we learn about the nature of America’s national character by studying the early development of a presumably “peculiar” part of it?
  • Theme Two: What role did slavery play in shaping the institutions of the Old South? How might the South’s large black minority have contributed to this region’s distinctive character, and what contribution did the Indian Nations make? Just what is it that distinguished the Old South from the rest of America?
  • Theme Three: How “solid” was the Old South? How did the Chesapeake differ from the Carolinas? How did the Virginia Piedmont differ from the Tidewater, or the Carolina backcountry from the lowcountry? How did the tobacco South differ from the cotton South, and how did both differ from the mountain South? How did the black South differ from the white South? Just how many “Old Souths” were there, anyway?
  • Theme Four: Why and how did Southerners overcome their regional (and other) differences and unite against the British Army in the American Revolutionary War? What contributions did Southerners make to Patriot victory and to the founding of the United States?
  • Theme Five: How did such Southern Founders as Jefferson and Washington attempt to reconcile the Revolutionary cause of liberty with the ownership of slaves? To what degree did they succeed in subverting slavery? Why did they fail to abolish slavery throughout the new Republic?
  • Theme Six: Why did “the South” change in the late eighteenth century from meaning all of the British Colonies except New England to denoting only those states south of the Mason-Dixon Line? How in the early nineteenth century did “the South” spread westward to the Mississippi River and beyond? Why and how did slavery change from being legal in all Thirteen Colonies to being the “peculiar institution” of a horizontally expanded but vertically compressed “South”?
  • Theme Seven: Why and how did Southerners fail to overcome their regional (and other) differences and unite against the Union Army in the American Civil War? What contributions did Southerners make to Union victory and the destruction of the Old South? Did the Old South come to an end in 1865?



  • The course will address these subjects and themes through lectures, assigned reading, class discussions, writing assignments, testing, and field work.
  • Upon successful completion of this course, students will be expected to:
  1. Demonstrate their knowledge of the major events, personalities, ideas, institutions, and developments of the American South from 1584 to 1865 through performance on quizzes and exams.
  2. Demonstrate their understanding of the major themes of this course—such as the nature and origins of the South’s distinctiveness and the contribution of the Old South to early American history—through class discussions and classroom activities.
  3. Demonstrate critical thinking through participation in class discussions—including analysis of primary source documents, photographs, and artifacts—and through writing analyses of historical films in light of their knowledge of facts and themes.
  • By taking this course, we will exercise our analytical powers and learn to be better readers, writers, speakers, and thinkers. Since republican government requires a populace that is educated, enlightened, and independent in their thinking, we may even become better citizens.



  • Over half of our class time will be devoted to lectures. Each lecture is accompanied by a PowerPoint slideshow which provides the basic content of the lecture, accompanied by such images as maps, paintings, and photographs. Students will be expected to listen attentively and ask thoughtful questions.
  • It is the responsibility of the student to pay close attention to the lecture and take rigorous notes on it. It has been my experience that taking notes is one of the best ways to remember what you have read in a book or heard in a lecture. If you do not take good notes from the lectures, you will have a hard time passing this course. ALWAYS bring paper, pen, and your lecture notes to each class meeting.




  • Two secondary-source monographs are required for this course: John Gordon’s South Carolina and the American Revolution and Bill Freehling’s The South vs. the South. These two books offer detailed accounts of the contributions of Southerners to the two great wars that formed America’s national character and institutions more than any other: the American Revolutionary War and American Civil War.
  • If you have any trouble acquiring either title from the campus bookstore, I would encourage you to check for availability at an online vendor. The prices for these books may be much higher in the bookstore than at You need, however, to have these books in hand and to begin reading the assigned pages from the first day of class. You are expected to keep up with weekly assignments and take thorough and thoughtful notes on the reading. Such notes will prove very helpful for exam study and coursework.
  • Reading the Gordon and Freehling books, discussing them in class, and answering questions about them on quizzes and exams will help enhance your understanding of the history of the Old South and raise some of the unifying themes of this course. You should be prepared to discuss the assigned reading with your professor and fellow students on the week that the assignment is due.
  • I will always try to leave some time at the end of class for questions and answers about the lectures or the assigned reading, but you can also raise your hand and ask a question during a lecture. Remember: There are no dumb questions. Asking questions is just one means of acquiring knowledge. Talking about what you have learned and listening to feedback from your professor and peers is yet another way of getting a firmer mental grasp on your knowledge.



  • In addition to lectures, we will use class time for discussion of the lectures and reading assignments. The PowerPoint slideshows include opportunities for analysis and discussion of primary source texts or images.
  • We will learn how to analyze such sources as pamphlets and constitutions, private letters and diary entries, oil paintings and newspaper cartoons, the tunes and lyrics of early American songs, and photographs of material artifacts like gravestones, buildings, weapons, and landscapes.
  • Classroom activities may also include in-class writing assignments, short films, student debates, or recitation of important speeches. You should be ready for anything! Class participation counts for 10 points of your final grade, so don’t be shy about speaking up in class, and always be prepared to take part in our discussions and other activities. If you score in excess of 10 points from class participation, the points will count toward your final course grade as extra credit.




  • There will be four quizzes given in class during the semester. Each quiz consists of five multiple-choice questions. These questions can be factual or analytical in nature. They can come from the lectures, the assigned reading, or any classroom activity, such as a film. While taking a quiz in class, you will have roughly ten minutes to complete it. You will also be allowed to use all of your own notes (though not your books), so be sure to bring your notes for the lectures and reading to each class meeting.
  • The four quizzes count for a total of 20 points of your final course grade. These quizzes will not be announced in advance. They are intended as a means for the professor to assess your learning, as an incentive for each student to attend class, keep up with assigned work, and take good notes, and as a method of preparation for the exam.
  • At the middle and end of the term, you will take an in-class exam. The two exams have the same multiple-choice format as the pop quizzes, so taking quizzes will give you a good idea of what to focus on when you study for exams.
  • Each exam has 30 questions on the lectures and assigned reading and counts for 30 points of your final course grade. You will not be able to access your notes or books during exams. The final exam is non-cumulative, covering only the material assigned since the midterm exam. To be sure that you are well prepared, we will try to set aside some class time for a review session.



  • Twice during the semester, we will also set aside class time to examine and all or part of modern feature films that address the subject of one or more lectures and raise one or more themes of the course. You will communicate your conclusions on each of these films in a Film Analysis, a short analytical essay due at the end of class. Each of these two Film Analyses is worth 5 points of your final course grade.
  • We will watch “The Patriot” and then discuss the film’s historical strengths and weaknesses in light of the lectures and Gordon’s South Carolina and the American Revolution. We will also watch parts of “Gods and Generals” and “Gettysburg” and then discuss the films’ portrayal of Virginia Confederates in light of the lectures and Freehling’s The South vs. The South.



  • If you do not attend class for whatever reason, the professor will not provide you with outlines or notes from the lecture. You may be fortunate to find a student in class who will lend his or her notes to you, but do not count on other people’s generosity. It is entirely your responsibility to attend class and keep up with the work.
  • If you are absent from class when we have a class discussion or other activity, or when I give a pop quiz, film analysis, or exam, you will receive a zero for the assignment. If you miss a quiz or an exam due to circumstances beyond your control, I will provide a make-up quiz or exam with documentation by a physician, court of law, or similar authority.



  • In addition to the aforementioned extra points from class participation, there will be another opportunity for extra credit in this course. For as much as 10 extra credit points, you have the option of doing one (and only one) Field Research Project (FRP). FRPs are entirely optional; if you choose to do one, they will only be accepted for credit if submitted by the deadline on the course schedule.
  • Field research is an important part of being a historian. An FRP provides the chance to apply your knowledge and analytical powers in seeking better understanding of and appreciation for some of the marvelous historical sites in our immediate area.
  • The first FRP option consists of visiting the Jefferson Memorial and recording all of the words engraved inside the memorial’s walls. You will next research and identify the original sources for those quotations. You will then write a 3-4 page essay explaining what the engraved words meant in their original text and context. Are the engraved words direct quotations, or are they different from the original text? Do the engraved words mean anything more or different to you once you understand them in light of the original text and context?
  • The second FRP option consists of visiting George Washington’s plantation home of Mount Vernon. Pay close attention to what you see at this site and what you hear from the docent; be sure to take notes on site. After your visit, write a 3-4 page essay explaining what you can infer from the constructed and natural environments and the exhibited artifacts about the nature of the plantation economy, slavery, the Founding Fathers, and the Old South in general.
  • The third FRP option consists of visiting the exhibit called “American Origins, 1600-1900” in the National Portrait Galley. Select three portraits of Southern Americans whom we have discussed in this course and examine them closely, applying the methods we learned for “reading” a painting. You will then write a 3-4 page essay that describes each of the three portraits in detail and cites course materials to explain the historical importance of each person. What can you infer about each person and their historical time and place by the way they chose to be painted?
  • For any of these three FRP options, the 3-4 page essay must be typed and stapled, with 10 or 12 point font, and 1 inch margins all around. The grade for each paper will be penalized for any attempt to inflate its length artificially.
  • You are also required to enclose with a paper copy of your FRP essay a photograph taken of you at the site in question. Your paper will not be accepted for any credit without such a photograph. In doing an FRP, you are allowed to collaborate with fellow classmates, if you like. Have some fun with this assignment!



  • The professor takes attendance at the beginning of each class meeting as a way of getting to know the students, but there is no specific grade for attending class. Since so much of the course grade depends upon our use of class time, you will have a very hard time passing the course without attending each class meeting.
  • Late arrivals and early departures are very distracting, so please arrive on time and remain for the entire session. If you cannot help arriving a few minutes late, please enter the room as quietly as possible. I do not expect to ever be late to class myself, but if I am, consider class cancelled if I do not arrive within 15 minutes. If you think—due to other commitments—that you will have a regular problem arriving on time or staying in class the full time, then please drop this course.
  • Needless to say, you are expected to be civil and courteous to your professors and peers during class meetings. I do not allow food in class, but I will tentatively allow drinks. For your lecture notes, depend on old-fashioned paper and pen. I do not allow the use of laptops, tape or digital recorders, cell phones, ear buds, Blackberries, iPods, or other electronic devices in class. Exceptions will be considered for students with physical or learning disabilities. If you carry a cell phone, keep it in your pocket or bag, and be certain at the start of class that you have turned it off.




  • If class time is not enough for you to ask all of your questions and work through your problems with the course, please come see me during office hours. My office location and office hours are posted on the first page of this syllabus. You can also reach me by phone during office hours, leave a voicemail message after hours, or send an e-mail anytime. If you do leave a voicemail, please also follow up with an e-mail.
  • I only return e-mails and voicemail messages from students during my office hours, however, not during the rest of the week. Even then, it may take me more than a week to return your e-mail or call. Also, it is always possible that I will not receive an e-mail or call due to technical problems, so I cannot promise to get back to you. If you have a serious issue, it is best to see me in person—in my office during scheduled hours or at the end of a class meeting.
  • Please come see me if you are having trouble with your comprehension of the lectures or reading. I will be happy to provide additional guidance or tutoring during my office hours. Also, do let me know if you have any special learning needs that may require extra assistance, and I will accommodate them as best I can.
  • If you need to see me but cannot make it during my regular office hours, we will make an appointment at another time that is convenient for both of us. I am eager to do whatever I reasonably can to help you learn in this course and excel in your program of study at Marymount. I will always endeavor to provide you with my best effort, and I will expect the same from each student. We have much to learn from this course and from one another.



REQUIRED BOOKS (available in campus bookstore or online):

  1. John W. Gordon. South Carolina and the American Revolution: A Battlefield History. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2003.
  2. William W. Freehling. The South vs. The South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.


SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIALS (provided by professor):

  1. “The Patriot,” starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger, directed by Roland Emmerich (2000).
  2. “Gods and Generals,” starring Stephen Lang and Jeff Daniels, directed by Ronald F. Maxwell (2003).
  3. “Gettysburg,” starring Tom Berenger and Jeff Daniels, directed by Ronald F. Maxwell (1993).



  1. Midterm Exam (in-class multiple-choice test) 30
  2. Final Exam (in-class multiple-choice test) 30
  3. 4 Pop Quizzes 20
  4. 2 Film Analyses (in-class essay) 10
  5. Class Participation 10+
  6. Field Research Project (extra credit) 10

Total Available Course Points 110+


A 110-90
B 89-80
C 79-70
D 69-60
F 59-0




  • Course Introduction
    • The Chesapeake Adventure
    • Get started on the Gordon book
  • The Roots of Slave Society
    • Reading Due: Gordon, pp. 1-57
  • The Road to Independence
    • Reading Due: Gordon, pp. 58-111
  • Revolution in the South
    • Reading Due: Gordon, pp. 112-184
  • No class meeting or office hours
  • Revolution in the South
    • Film Analysis No. 1: “The Patriot”
  • Catch-Up and Exam Review
    • Midterm Exam
  • Virginia and the Founding
    • Get started on the Freehling book
  • The Road to Disunion
    • Reading Due: Freehling, pp. xi—xv, 3-64
  • Rise and Fall of the Confederacy
    • Reading Due: Freehling, pp. 65-139
  • Rise and Fall of the Confederacy
    • Film Analysis No. 2: “Gods and Generals” and “Gettysburg”
    • Reading Due: Freehling, pp. 141-206
    • Deadline for FRPs
  • Catch-Up and Course Overview
    • Last Day of Class
    • Final Exam